There are several ways to outsmart these late-night pests.

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Once you've tossed paper, non-compostable food scraps, and any other unwanted household goods, chances are you don't want anything to do with it. So imagine how frustrating it would be to continually find your trash can tipped, with remnants of everything you previously discarded, rifled through and strewn about. When this happens, there's a likely culprit: raccoons or possums. But those late-night party animals aren't going to clean up after themselves—and chances are you don't want to do it on the regular, either. You know what they say: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

To ensure you don't find yourself in this stinky situation, experts say there are a few strategies you can employ to keep wildlife out.

Raccoon Looking out of a Trashcan
Credit: Ian Fox / Getty Images

Keep your trash contained.

First and foremost: Never leave the lid off of your trash can. "Raccoons want two things: food and shelter," says Dr. Nancy Troyano, director of operations education and training and board certified entomologist for Ehrlich Pest Control. To a raccoon or possum, an open can is an open invitation to dinner. Better yet, keep your garbage bins lidded and cordoned off in a shed or in the garage.

Buy a metal trash can with a locking mechanism.

Not everyone has the luxury of a shed or a garage—plus, some municipalities and trash hauling services require you to put your household refuse on the curb each night. Since raccoons can chew through plastic, opt for a metal version with a lid that twists to lock into place like the American-made Behrens Six-Gallon Rust-Proof Steel Locking Lid Trash Can ($45, amazon.com). If you're set on plastic, look for one that's touted as "raccoon-proof."

Put a lock on it.

If you don't have a trash can with a locking lid—or that's not doing the trick—you can buy raccoon locks ($19.95, amazon.com). These are often bungee cord-type mechanisms that strap over the lid to keep it secure, should nosy critters come crawling. Of course, you could also jerry rig your own lock with straps, rope, or even by placing a heavy object (a rock, brick, or weight, for example) on top of the bin.

Find level ground.

Even the best locks fail sometimes—especially upon impact. Make sure you're storing your bins on level ground, so they can't be easily tipped by curious raccoons and possums.

Double-bag your waste.

If your trash is filled with particularly strong aromas of food—say, after Thanksgiving dinner or a backyard barbecue—layering trash bags may minimize the odor and, thus, limit temptation.

Install a motion light.

There's a reason raccoons and possums come out at night—these nocturnal creatures love the cover of darkness. Installing a motion-activated light near your trash bins may startle wildlife before they have a chance to get too curious. "Being nocturnal, raccoons have sensitive eyes," adds Troyano. "Bright lights and loud sounds often scare them away and once they are scared away they probably won't be back." You don't have to spend a fortune on a hard-wired option either. Today, there are plenty of options, like battery-operated WiFi-enabled flood lights ($199.99, amazon.com) that also double as security cameras.

Use animal repellant.

There are various types of repellant—sprays, granules, ultrasonic waves, and more—that can help repel raccoons, possums, and other trash-curious rodents. You can purchase these at your local hardware store or through online marketplaces like Amazon. Alternatively, you can hire a professional pest control service to help determine the right approach for your situation.

Clean your bins.

This cleaning task may rank even lower than scouring the toilets, but it's important to clean and sanitize your trash bins on a regular basis. Doing so will not only keep everything more hygienic, but will also limit odors and trash residue that attract pests like raccoons and possums in the first place. Wait for a sunny day, hose them down, then let dry in the sun. Experts say you can even use ammonia, since the scent typically deters raccoons.

And never, ever feed them.

No matter how cute you might find them, do not feed raccoons, says Troyano: "Doing so will not only bring those raccoons back, but could also bring others around."

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